Monday, August 25, 2008

Is It Unethical to Steal an Idea for a Post?

This post was prompted by the recent polls hosted by The Hardball Times and Tango Tiger, and to “rate” a number of actual situations from baseball history on the standard of ethicality ( claims this is a word; however, my spellchecker doesn't like it). The endeavor was based on a class project at Carleton College.

Recognizing that some of the comparisons are apples and oranges to some degree, I approached the situations with a hierarchy something like this, from most grievous to least:

1. Game fixing

2. Gambling that could raise questions about the integrity of a contest, but does not rise to the level of fixing a game (this would include Pete Rose betting on the Reds to win, for instance)

3. Violent acts against others (Juan Marichal hitting John Roseboro over the head with a bat is what I have in mind here)

4. Cheating by means not available to the other team (this would include the shenanigans like watering down the basepaths, using electronic sign stealing, etc.--the home team generally has a distinct advantage in performing these acts)

5. Laying down for the opponent (Denny McLain throwing a meatball to Mickey Mantle, the Browns allowing Nap Lajoie to win the batting title, etc.) or intentionally playing poorly without a financial interest in doing so (if Manny was not trying in his final days with the Red Sox, it would go here)

6. Cheating by means available to the other team (spitballs, corked bats, etc.)

I did not include anything that does not directly relate to the game on the field. For example, one of the scenarios presented was that of segregation. Baseball obviously held a very unethical stance towards black players for much of its existence, and besides the obvious discriminatory aspects, it injured the game itself by not allowing some of the most talented players to compete. However, once you are sitting in the ballpark circa 1920 watching the Giants play the Braves, the color barrier does not distort the competition between the two teams of specific players in the way that a fixed game or a pitcher throwing a spitball would (*).

Another scenario that was offered was the indictment of Barry Bonds. I see this as the most unethical of all of the choices (other than murder), because I find the state attempting to take away a man’s liberty unjustly more repulsive than a private business refusing to allow a class of people to pursue a livelihood. However, I did not rank it either, as I assume that most people see Bonds, not the state, as the unethical actor. Furthermore, the issue at stake really has nothing to do with baseball. Bonds may have been a target because of his status as one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, but anyone accused of similar actions could be, in theory, a target as well.

I suppose that I should explain why the list is ordered in that way. I looked at it from a baseball perspective rather than a general one. In the big scheme, assaulting people comes up worse in my book than defrauding them, although individual cases may vary. However, from the perspective of a baseball consumer, there is nothing that is more troublesome to me than the possibility that the competition is not honest, and thus game fixing is the worst act possible.

Despite the fact that the various tricks that can be employed by groundskeepers seem to generally be considered innocuous, I personally find them to be worse than other forms of cheating like throwing spitballs and corking bats. In the latter cases, both teams have an equal opportunity to attempt to cheat should they so desire. In the former, only the home team is capable of engaging in it. One could argue, I suppose, that over the long haul of a season, each team has equal opportunity, since each team will host half of their games. Even so, cheating in each individual game does not excuse it from all parties. 1919 wouldn’t have been any better had the Reds been alternating throwing games with the White Sox.

All of that being said, please don’t get the impression that I believe that watering down the basepaths and similar tricks have a major impact, or that I am particularly morally outraged by them. Outside of gambling and outright assault, the rest of the list of things I don’t approve of are things that I would file under “make for amusing anecdotes”.

It seems to me that people’s general attitude towards, say, the spitball is that of amusement. Gaylord Perry can write a book titled “Me and the Spitter”, and everybody chuckles. Books are filled with jokes about how you couldn’t shake his hand because it would slip out of your grip.

And that is how I view the behaviors from #4 on the list on down: worthy of mild scorn, but by no means condemnation.

Here are various “transgressions” that some people may consider unethical but which I have no/very little problem with:

* use of PEDs

* using deception to draw a call from an umpire (phantom tag, pretending to be hit by a pitch, etc.)

* using deception to mislead the opponent (infielders pretending a throw is coming, ARod yelling “Ha!”, etc.)

* sign stealing by normal method of observation without outside help

* intentionally breaking the rules of the game (As an example, a fielder intentionally obstructs a runner, knowing that what he is doing is illegal)

* acts that could be considered violent which commonly occur in the game as part of the game (throwing at hitters, sliding hard into a base, etc.)

Some of those things are against the rules, but they fall under the category of “rules that I don’t think should exist”, and so I am not personally bothered by any of them at any level deeper than a belief that rules should be obeyed.

Of course, PEDs are the big issue of the day. I could write a whole screed on this (and trust me, it would be a screed), but let me try to summarize my feelings in a list format:

1) I do not believe that laws define morality, so the fact that a given substance may be banned by the government does not in any way compel me to oppose its use by baseball players.

2) I believe that people have allowed the word “steroids” to become so dirty that any substance can be slapped with that label and have its use condemned (yes, I realize that there is an actual medicinal definition of what is or is not a steroid, but I’m using the term as it is used in baseball talk--haphazardly). The self-righteousness of organizations like the IOC on “doping” has further poisoned the well.

I think that attempts to draw a bold line between the use of particular substances and the ingestion of other substances are misguided. I believe that adults should be free to make choices about what to put into their own bodies.

3) While I fully support MLB’s right to set a drug policy and ban particular substances, this does not in any way require me to attach moral outrage to those who violate the policy. The penalties for those violations are spelled out. However, those penalties do not include stripping of records in the amateur sports style of pretending that games never happened that so many people seem to want to apply to baseball records.

(Yes, I recognize that there is a difference between wanting to take a jaundiced look at records and wanting to toss them out of the books entirely. However, since my view on the questions of “greatness” are firmly grounded in the player’s win contribution in his own time and place, the two positions are tantamount with respect to discussions of whether, say, Roger Clemens is the best pitcher of the second half of the twentieth century.)

Of course, supporting MLB’s right to set a drug policy does not mean that I have to endorse the particular one they choose.

Since I have used the project of The Hardball Times and Tango Tiger as fodder for a mail-it-in post, I figure that I should at least have the courtesy to suggest that you take a look at Tango’s latest edition of the Fans' Scouting Report. However, I assume that I don’t have any regular readers who do not also read The Book Blog (and if you don’t, what is wrong with you?)

(*) Did you catch this? The spitball was still legal in 1920.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Git 'er Dunn

A (mostly) imagined conversation with the little voices in my head:

Hello, my name is Pete. I’m a huge Reds fan. I love listening to Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley call the games. I also have a life-size poster of Chris Sabo on my wall. I see you’re a baseball fan, and you seem to be from Ohio.

Uh, yeah. My name is P and I blog about baseball once in a while. But I’m from the northern part of the state and I’m actually more of an Indians fan.

Well, your team hasn’t won the World Series since 1948. We had the Big Red Machine! And we’re the first professional baseball team!

Yes, the Indians do not exactly have a storied history, and the Reds of the 1970s were pretty good. However, the modern Reds don’t really have anything to do with the 1869 Red Stockings, except they play in the same city and kind of use the same name. But that’s a topic for another day…

Whatever. Hey, I see we got Micah Owings as the player to be named later for Adam Dunn! Awesome! He’s a better hitter then Adam Dunn.

Uh, you’re kidding about that last part, right?

Well, it may be a bit of hyperbole, but Adam Dunn isn’t that good of a hitter. All he does is walk and hit home runs. The rest of the time he strikes out.

I agree that Dunn is not one of the elite hitters in baseball. However, he’s been the Reds' best hitter by a wide margin over the last few seasons, and was again in 2008.

But he’s only a lifetime .247 hitter. And he strikes out a lot.

Yes, he does strike out a lot, and his batting average isn’t great. But he makes a lot less outs than the average player does; he’s got a lifetime .374 OBA.

You can talk sabermetrics all you want. The point of baseball is to score runs and stop the other team from scoring.

Indeed. That’s what sabermetrics is all about on the player evaluation level: trying to estimate how many runs a player was worth to his team in all aspects of the game.

Then why don’t you look at PRODUCTION? Runs scored and RBI. Look at Adam Dunn’s game last night (August 12) for the Diamondbacks. He went 1-3, and he hit a double and drew two walks. That makes his OBA .600 and his SLG .667 for a good OPS. But no production…zero runs scored, zero batted in. And he didn’t play well in the field, and he struck out two times, which is why he had no production. He’s why Moneyball is stupid.

Wow, Pete, I don’t know where to start. For one thing, I’m not saying he’s a great fielder. He’s pretty bad, and he’d probably be better off at first base or DH. And I’m not saying that I would sign him to the type of contract extension that he wants, nor is at least one other sabermetrically-inclined person. I'm not even saying the trade was bad. I’m just saying that he was by far your best offensive player, and arguably the most valuable player on your team this season.

For one thing, I don’t accept R and RBI as “production”. They are dependent on what Dunn’s teammates do before and after he bats, which is out of his hands. You can argue a number of different positions on this, but at the very least you have to admit that the most he can do is make good on the situations with which he is presented.

So from that perspective, let’s look at his game from last night, PA by PA:

#1: bats with runner at 1st, 2 out in 1st and fans. This is an irrelevant strikeout, since the result would have been exactly the same had he made another kind of out. This is a case in which an out is an out is an out...bad, of course, but not any more so because it was a K. Play reduced DBacks' estimated win probability by 2.3%

#2: leads off the 4th with a walk. And here's a case where a walk really is as good as a single--no runners on base to advance. +4.3% WPA.

#3: bats with 2 out, runner at first. Hits a double, advances runner to third. No RBI, but definitely productive...not his fault that the next batter failed to drive in a run. Increased WP by 4.8%.

#4: leads off the 7th with a walk. Again, walk is as good as a single in this case, +2.4% WPA.

#5: bats with 2 outs, runners at 1st and 2nd. Strikes out; again, two out K may as well have been a groundout. -2.6% WPA.

That’s a productive night at the plate.

That’s just sabermetric spin. He didn’t put any runs on the scoreboard, period. I’m not interested in potential, I’m interested in results.

If you’re only interested in the results, then why do you care about the two-out strikeouts? They have the same effect as any other out would have had--the inning is over, and no runs scored.

But if he would put the ball in play, something good might have happened. If he strikes out, nothing good can happen.

Fair enough, but we already account for the errors and other assorted events that occur on some “outs” in play by giving the other outs a higher linear weight value than a strikeout.

And if he drew a walk to lead off the inning, or hit a double to extend the inning and advance a baserunner, the next batter MIGHT have gotten a hit, and then he would have had “production”. Or maybe he wouldn’t have, since the accounting system of R and RBI ignores a lot of events that are crucial to a run scoring, but don’t actually result in the player scoring or driving someone else in.

But that didn’t happen. His teammates didn’t come through, and thus he produced nothing.

Those things like errors that could have happened on an out in play? Usually they don’t. Had he grounded out, you couldn’t complain about the strikeout, but the Diamondbacks would have been no better off.

But we don’t know what would have happened if he wouldn’t have struck out. Maybe there would have been an error.

I’ll give him credit for it when it actually does happen. In the mean time, back here in reality, he made an out, the inning is over, and we accounted for that. Can we move on?

No. The great hitters like Williams, Gwynn, and Boggs, they didn’t strike out much.

You keep making it sound like I think Dunn is the new Frank Robinson or something. Obviously Dunn is not in the class of those guys as hitters. And while Dunn may strike out more than just about any good player ever, don’t try to tell me that great hitters like Ruth, Mantle, and Jackson didn’t strike out a lot either.

Dunn isn’t as good as those guys. Dunn just doesn’t produce.

You’re right, Dunn is not as good as those guys. Say, do you know who leads the Reds in runs scored as of August 12?

Since you’re asking, it’s probably Dunn.

No, actually it’s Brandon Phillips with 67. Edwin Encarnacion is next with 61, and Dunn has scored 58.

However, Dunn leads in RBI 74-68 over Phillips.

Who leads in that new-fangled WPA stat you mentioned, that you claim actually looks at the situation which the batter is presented anyway?

Dunn, with +1.83. Jerry Hairston is second, and Phillips is down at +.41. You can see for yourself at Fangraphs.

Whatever. Dunn could be so much better if he changed his approach and tried to put the ball in play more often.

I suppose that’s possible. But now you’re evaluating him based on what you think he should be, rather than what he is.

Yeah, I am. If he’s the best player on your team, then you’re in trouble. Look at the Reds. They suck. Look at my namesake, Pete Rose. He got more out of his talent than anyone.

For one thing, you guys need to get over Pete Rose. He’s been retired for years, and banned from the game for almost as long. You need to move on, and stop idolizing every Chris Sabo and Ryan Freel that comes along and scraps his way into your heart. You don’t have to be Pete Rose to be a good ballplayer.

It is pretty common for a fanbase, or at least the less-analytical portion of a fanbase, to turn on their one or more of their best players when they are confronted with a losing or disappointing team. See Beltran, Carlos and the Mets. However, making a scapegoat doesn't solve any problems. It actually inhibits solving problems, as once the beast is slain (and he's in an Arizona uniform), the job appears to be done, when all you have actually done is shed one of the few bright spots on your team. Of course, it may still be a good move for your team in the long run, but if so, it's not because Dunn's performance is off your team, it would be because you have not ponied up for Dunn's future contract and/or because you received good talent in return.

Really, shouldn’t you point the finger at the guys who aren’t getting anything dunn?

That’s a lame pun.

Yeah, I know, I’m not very creative. That’s why I’m having a dialogue with you, Pete.

Monday, August 11, 2008

1881 NL (cont.)

Leaders and trailers:
1. Cap Anson, CHN (.399)
2. Martin Powell, DET (.338)
3. Jack Rowe, BUF (.333)
Trailer: Bill McClellan, PRO (.166)
1. Cap Anson, CHN (.442)
2. Martin Powell, DET (.380)
3. Tom York, PRO (.362)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (.200)
Trailing non-pitcher: Art Whitney, DET (.208)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.541)
2. Cap Anson, CHN (.510)
3. Jack Rowe, BUF (.480)
Trailer: Bill McClellan, PRO (.185)
1. Dan Brouthers, BUF (.289)
2. Charlie Bennett, DET (.237)
3. Tom York, PRO (.215)
Trailer: Joe Quest, CHN (.038)
1. Cap Anson, CHN (91)
2. Fred Dunlap, CLE (71)
3. King Kelly, CHN (71)
4. Abner Dalrymple, CHN (69)
5. Jim O'Rourke, BUF (68)
1. Cap Anson, CHN (216)
2. Dan Brouthers, BUF (171)
3. Fred Dunlap, CLE (170)
4. Martin Powell, DET (168)
5. Tom York, PRO (154)
Trailer: George Derby, DET (41)
Trailing non-pitcher: Bill McClellan, PRO (45)
1. Cap Anson, CHN (+4.4)
2. Fred Dunlap, CLE (+3.1)
3. Dan Brouthers, BUF (+2.5)
4. Tom York, PRO (+2.2)
5. King Kelly, CHN (+1.9)
Trailer: Davy Force, BUF (-2.3)
1. Cap Anson, CHN (+5.2)
2. Fred Dunlap, CLE (+4.8)
3. Bob Ferguson, TRO (+3.5)
4. Charlie Bennett, DET (+3.5)
5. Jim O'Rourke, BUF (+3.5)
Trailer: Davy Force, BUF (-.7)
1. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (82)
2. Larry Corcoran, CHN (84)
3. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (87)
4. George Derby, DET (89)
5. Pud Galvin, BUF (89)
Trailer: The Only Nolan, CLE (117)
1. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+1.7)
2. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+1.5)
3. George Derby, DET (+1.4)
4. Pud Galvin, BUF (+1.3)
5. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+1.1)
Trailer: John Fox, BSN (-1.4)
1. Jim Whitney, BSN (+2.6)
2. Jim McCormick, CLE (+2.5)
3. Fred Goldsmith, CHN (+2.2)
4. Larry Corcoran, CHN (+2.0)
5. Hoss Radbourn, PRO (+1.9)
Trailer: John Fox, BSN (-1.6)

My all-star team:
C: Charlie Bennett, DET
1B: Cap Anson, CHN
2B: Fred Dunlap, CLE
3B: Ezra Sutton, BSN
SS: Jack Glasscock, CLE
LF: Tom York, PRO
CF: Hardy Richardson, BUF
RF: King Kelly, CHN
P: Jim Whitney, BSN
P: Jim McCormick, CLE
MVP: 1B Cap Anson, CHN
Rookie Hitter: C Buck Ewing, TRO
Rookie Pitcher: Jim Whitney, BSN

I went with Sutton over O’Rourke at third base because O’Rourke was evaluated at -19 Fielding Runs by Pete Palmer, and since it was his first time as a regular third baseman, I don’t find it hard to believe that his defense may have been subpar.

At shortstop, Jack Glasscock’s +9 FR elevate him over Ross Barnes (-3) and Tom Burns (-4). Glasscock had a fine defensive reputation, and it’s not hard to imagine that an over thirty Ross Barnes, in his last big league season, would not have been a great defensive shortstop.

I went with Hardy Richardson in center on the strength of his +23 FR, although that figure seems a bit high and it’s hard to pass up established stars like Paul Hines and George Gore.

I also struggled with the rookie hitter decision; the top two candidates were Martin Powell (+2.4 WAR, -3 FR at first base) and Buck Ewing (+1.7 WAR, +19 FR at catcher). Catchers are hard to evaluate defensively, and certainly it would be no easier in the nineteenth century. Picking Ewing also feels a bit like making a decision based on what we know now rather than what an observer in 1881 would have known. Ewing would go on to be one of the great stars of the nineteenth century while Powell would never again have a positive TPR.

Finally, a word about the pitchers. Neither of my selections were even in the top five in WAA, which solely considers their pitching performance. However, they were the top two hitting pitchers in the circuit, and the range of performance in the box was really not that great this season. It is easy to speculate that adjustments to moving the box back five feet were the primary cause of this phenomenon, but it would be just that. Anecdotally, Mickey Welch claimed that the extra distance hurt his curveball, while Tim Keefe said it helped. Whatever the cause was, no pitcher managed to separate himself through his primary job responsibility.

That will conclude the annual reviews on the 1876-1881 NL; I intend to do the 1882-1883 NL and AA some time in the fairly near future. I would like to continue to do similar write-ups all the way through the 1900 season, but that may not happen for a while.

1881 NL

The National League seemed to be in great shape entering 1881 after another fairly uneventful off-season; other than the expulsion of Cincinnati and their subsequent replacement with Detroit, the structure of the circuit was unchanged.

The customary annual rule changes were important. The maximums were lowered to seven balls and three strikes. Batting order had to be set prior to the game (previously, the manager could determine the order during the first pass through the lineup. Cap Anson was purportedly a practitioner of this strategy, choosing to bat himself in the first inning should there be runners on base but holding himself back if there were not). Most importantly, though, the pitching box was moved back five feet, from forty-five to fifty.

The pennant race was another breeze for Chicago. Although they declined by eleven games, they still boasted a .667 W% and a nine game margin on second place Providence. The White Stockings went 13-6 in April to take a 1 1/2 game lead on the Grays; after a 12-4 June, their lead was 4 1/2 over Buffalo and would increase from there, with Providence besting the Bisons by 1 1/2 for second.

On June 25, George Gore of Chicago stole seven bases in a game against Providence. On September 10, Roger Connor of Troy belted a two-out, walkoff grand slam in the bottom of the ninth against Worcester to pull the game out 8-7. This was the first “ultimate grand slam” (down three with two outs) in NL history.

On September 29, the league blacklisted ten players for “confirmed dissipation and general insubordination”. They were Lew Brown (Providence), Ed Caskin (Troy), Bill Crowley (Boston), Buttercup Dickerson (Worcester), Mike Dorgan (Worcester), John Fox (Boston), Emil Gross (Providence), Sadie Houck (Detroit), The Only Nolan (Cleveland), and Lip Pike (Worcester). This wound up marking the end of the major league careers of exactly zero of these men.

The next day, a new standard player contract was approved. It enabled fines for any conduct considered “detrimental to the team”; it also provided no salary protection for injuries or coverage for medical treatment. With the strong-arm tactics against players (new contracts, blacklisting, and the reserve clause), the NL was engendering a fair degree of anti-management sentiment among its players. This would help set the stage for the tumultuous events of the next few years.

One of those events were efforts to establish a new challenger to the NL, one that would address the lack of league teams in major cities like New York, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and St. Louis.

While all eight NL franchises returned for 1882, the baseball scene they would encounter in 1882 was different than any they had seen before. Their leader would be dead and their strongest rival would be in business.


Buffalo played well above their EW% and PW%, while Cleveland did the opposite. Chicago looked even more dominant on paper than they did on the field. Boston declined again, holding sixth place but losing 1 1/2 games in the standings, while the newcomers from Detroit acquitted themselves nicely with a first division (albeit sub-.500) finish.

As David Nemec points out, 1881 was the most balanced season for the NL in the nineteenth century. Only 23 games separated top from bottom, only 15 games separated second from the cellar, and no team played under .390 ball.

In 1881, the league hit .260/.290/.338, for a .120 SEC, with 5.10 runs and 23.94 outs per game. The fielding average once again reached a new high, this time .905.

It is of course impossible to quantify the exact effect of moving the pitcher’s box back, but it certainly seemed to increase offensive output. Batting average was up 2%, isolated power was up 5%, while walk rate spiked, although only to 4.2% of plate appearances (a 93% increase from 1880). Runs/game were up 8.7%, and strikeouts as a percentage of PA dropped from 8% to 7%.


“If it’s not broke, why fix it” could well have been the motto for the defending pennant winners, as all regulars returned in their same positions. The team lost ground in terms of dominance but was still heads and shoulders above the best of the league.

Silver Flint continued his off and on pattern of hitting; a 74 ARG in his rookie year (1878) had been followed by 121, 45, and 111. Joe Quest must have also been a fine defender, as he did not hit. Abner Dalrymple and George Gore, the best hitters at their position in 1880, lost a bit of production but were still good, while Cap Anson turned in what could be considered a career year. The rookie pitching sensations of 1880 were not quite as brilliant, but then again the movement of the box seemed to draw a lot of pitchers towards the mean as they made adjustments.


The Grays declined by five games but also found themselves six games closer to first place, although still well behind at nine games back. Catcher Barney Gilligan from Cleveland replaced Emil Gross after an August leg injury took him out of action. The loss of shortstop John Peters was costly, as his replacement, Bill McClellan, had not played in the NL since 1878 (CHN), and had a horrendous (-.7 WAR) season at the plate. Pitcher Bobby Mathews was back after not appearing in 1880.

Rookie third baseman Jerry Denny was the first significant player from California; born in New York, he grew up in a San Francisco orphanage after the death of his parents. Andy Piercy, who appeared just eight times at the plate for Chicago, was the first California-born player in this same season (see Nemec, pg. 152 for his account of early California major leaguers).

Fellow rookie Hoss Radbourn (not yet known as Hoss, one would assume, but things would get awfully confusing if I didn’t refer to players as they are known today) was actually the Grays’ most effective pitcher. He had played in six games as a position player for Buffalo in 1880, and returned home to resume his occupation as a butcher’s apprentice. Providence, seeking a utility man, wired him; a friend answered for him, asking for $750, then convinced Radbourn to report. When Monte Ward came down with a sore arm, Radbourn got a shot at pitching, and the rest is history.

There was quite bit of boardroom intrigue surrounding the franchise this season. In August, the shareholders were angry over a projected loss of $1,500 and perceived soft treatment of players (this audacious behavior included paying the salaries of injured players). The board was overhauled, and manager Jack Farrell was replaced by Tom York as manager.


The Bisons see-sawed their way back to the level of their inaugural 1879 NL campaign, in which they finished third, ten games back with a 46-32 record. This year, they went 45-38, ten and a half back and in third place. The 24-58 1880 season certainly appeared to be the outlier.

Buffalo got a big addition in Jim O’Rourke, who was not reserved by Boston; he was named manager and was installed himself at third base; Hardy Richardson was moved to center to make room. This move was somewhat interesting, as O’Rourke had just 42 previous appearances at third in the NA or NL and Richardson had not played outfield in his two previous seasons. Pete Palmer’s Fielding Runs peg O’Rourke at -19 runs on the season, with Richardson at +23, so on the balance I suppose one could say it didn’t work out too badly. On the other hand, it seems as if there should have been a better way to shift the pieces around (White at third?)

Curry Foley also came over from Boston and was used primarily as a right fielder (although he did pitch 41 innings). Veteran stars Johnny Peters (Providence) and Deacon White (Cincinnati) were also valuable additions, but the canniest pickup may have been first baseman Dan Brouthers, last with Troy.

O’Rourke’s nickname was “Orator Jim”--this was due to his loquaciousness. There are numerous anecdotes about O’Rourke’s vocabulary and his willingness to unleash it in everyday use. One deals directly with this season; according to Cooperstown: Where the Legends Live Forever from The Sporting News, Peters asked O’Rourke for a raise. I’m not sure that I buy this, because O’Rourke would not be in charge of payroll, although I suppose that as manager he could have been the intermediary between the ownership and his fellow players. Anyway, I’ll repeat O’Rourke’s supposed response here, because it exemplifies the other tales you’ll run across:

“I’m sorry, but the exigencies of the occasion and the condition of our exchequer will not permit anything of the sort at this period of our existence. Subsequent developments in the field of finance may remove the present gloom and we may emerge into a condition where we may see fit to reply in the affirmative to your exceedingly modest request.”

Wouldn’t he have at least said “I deeply regret” instead of the simple “I’m sorry”? What kind of purported wordsmith was this guy anyway?


The Wolverines acquitted themselves nicely, finishing in the first division and narrowly missing the .500 mark at 41-43. A reported profit of $12,000 also bode well for the newcomers.

The team was largely composed of NL veterans; only first baseman Martin Powell and pitcher George Derby were true rookies among the regulars. Worcester was the biggest source of talent, providing Charlie Bennett, Art Whitney, George Wood, and Lon Knight. Sadie Houck came from Providence, Ned Hanlon from Cleveland, Stump Wiedman from Buffalo, and Joe Gerhardt returned to the NL (last having played in 1879 with Cincinnati).


The Trojans kept most of their team in place and essentially treaded water with a slight decline in the win column. Roger Connor was moved to first base, and his vacant third base position was filled by Frank Hankinson of Cleveland. While Dan Brouthers was allowed to leave for Buffalo, Troy introduced another young player into the lineup as Buck Ewing became the regular catcher (he had 46 PA in 1880).

The Trojans continued to struggle at the gate, drawing just twelve fans for a September 27 game against Chicago. Management broached the possibility of moving the team to Pittsburgh.


The Reds were unable to pull out of their funk, holding sixth place and falling a game and a half in the standings. On July 2, the proud franchise fell into last place for the very first time.

Pop Snyder returned after not playing in 1880; Ross Barnes did the same, having last been a Red. This would be his swan song, and he acquitted himself quite nicely. Joe Hornung and Bill Crowley moved over from Buffalo, and rookie Fred Lewis was the primary right fielder.

The Reds had their own pair of rookie starters, perhaps trying to emulate the success of Chicago? Tommy Bond was discarded; he pitched just three times, going 0-3 while allowing 17 runs in 25 innings, and was released on June 1. John Fox was sub-replacement level (and managed to get himself on the blacklist after just one season), but Grasshopper Jim Whitney was average in the box (leading the league in wins…and losses) and excellent at the plate, finishing third on the team in WAA.

Whitney’s sobriquet was due to his appearance; Bill James quotes an unnamed reporter as writing that “[Whitney had] a head about the size of a wart with the forehead slanting at an angle of 45 degrees.”

The Harry Wright era ended after the season, as he followed the same trail younger brother George had, departing the Reds for Providence.


The Blues were unable to hold their gains of 1880, dropping back to seventh place. Mike McGeary was made starting third baseman and manager, but quit after eleven games. He was replaced by John Clapp, who came over from Cincinnati in the offseason. This marked the fourth consecutive year that Clapp had managed a different club. George Bradley, last with Providence, took over the third base duties and pitched just 51 innings, marking the first time in his career he had been used primarily as a position player. Mike Moynahan came from Buffalo while Jack Remsen had last played with Chicago in 1879.

The Only Nolan also made his triumphant return to the NL after last pitching for another team called the Blues (Indianapolis) in 1878. Unfortunately for the sake of people who like silly anecdotes, he was one of the players blacklisted in September.


The Brown Stockings finished last, but as mentioned above, the NL was pretty balanced. At .390, they had the highest W% yet for a last-place team, and a record good enough to have finished ahead of two teams in 1880 and three in 1879. The team added Hick Carpenter from Cincinnati, Pete Hotaling from Cleveland, and Mike Dorgan from Providence. Doc Bushong inherited the starting catcher role with the departure of Charlie Bennett.

Dorgan started out as the manager, but his play was hampered by a sore arm in June and then was relieved of his duties in August, to be replaced by Harry Stovey. Lee Richmond asked for his release in June, but was brought back in August, then closed the season by purportedly getting into a beanball war with Boston’s Jim Whitney.

Some of the Brown Stockings became suspicious of outfielder Lip Pike (5 games) when he made three errors in one game; he was suspended and later blacklisted. The Brown Stockings also saw Dorgan and Buttercup Dickerson placed on the list. The latter did not help his cause when he told manager/front office man Freeman Brown that he would stop drinking. Brown asked “When does the good work start?”, to which Dickerson replied “As soon as they shut down the distilleries.” (Nemec, pg. 138)

Here is a link to the leaders/trailers and all-star post.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Run Estimation Stuff, pt. 6

Last time I wrote about the approach of applying BsR to individuals by using static intrinsic linear weights from some entity. This time, we will look at the differential and theoretical team approaches, each of which allow for some interaction between the player and the team, and cause the weights to be different for each individual player.

As I mentioned last time, these too approaches are equivalent if we use the same team totals for each. The TT formulas in use generally assume that the player gets exactly 1/9 of team PAs. This is not an inevitable choice, though.

Let’s first define the team’s A, B, C, and D factors without the player as T_A, T_B, T_C, and T_D. Then, we can estimate the number of runs the team will score with the player as:

(A + T_A)*(B + T_B)/(B + C + T_B + T_C) + D + T_D

The number of runs the team would score without the player is:

T_A*T_B/(T_B + T_C) + T_D

Thus, DBsR (Differential BsR) is the difference between the two, which simplifies a bit to:

DBsR = (A + T_A)*(B + T_B)/(B + C + T_B + T_C) + D - T_A*T_B/(T_B + T_C)

All a standard theoretical team formula does is assume that the player gets 1/9 of team PAs, and thus defines T_A, T_B, and T_C as some entity’s A/PA, B/PA, and C/PA times (eight times individual PA). I like to call A/PA “ROBA” (Runners On Base Average), B/PA “AF” (Advancement Factor), and C/PA “OA” (Out Average). With PA indicating individual PA, the generalized TT formula is):

TT BsR = (A + LgROBA*8*PA)*(B + LgAF*8*PA)/(B + C + (LgAF + LgOA)*8*PA) + D - LgROBA*LgAF/(LgAF + LgOA)*8*PA

Using the basic BsR equation spelled out in Part 5, the 1961-2005 major league averages are: .301 ROBA, .306 AF, .676 OA, producing this TT equation:

TT BsR = (A + 2.41PA)*(B + 2.45PA)/(B + C + 7.86PA) + D - .75PA

The 2007 AL averages are .308/.331/.666, giving this equation:

TT BsR = (A + 2.46PA)*(B + 2.65PA)/(B + C + 7.97PA) + D - .82PA

Here are each player’s TT BsR figured by each approach; “Long” is the long-term weights, “2007A” is the 2007 AL weights:

Once again, you can see how little difference this makes, and thus why Bill James can get away with using the same TT formula for all of baseball history (incidentally, I did not round off two decimal places in those calculations, so the results may be a little different if you try using the above formulas yourself).

Now let’s apply the differential method, figuring the difference between the player’s team’s BsR with and without them. I am using their actual teams; we could look at each player on any other team, but we would have to do it in TT fashion, or by weighting the player’s PA when figuring the “rest of team” BsR. I realize that is a poorly explained point, but let me try this. Suppose we subtracted ARod’s stats from those of the White Sox, pretending that he was actually a member of that team. Now the team that we’re adding him to is not just the worst offense in the league, they’re the worst offense in the league without the presence of the best hitter in the league--who never actually contributed to that team in the first place.

The point is that if you use the differential method, you need to use it with the entity the player actually belongs to or you need to use a TT approach to scale the “rest of team” stats properly (in the ARod/CHA case, the “rest of team” should hit just as well as they did, just with 600 less PAs (or however many PA ARod actually had)).

So these figures are for the players on each of their actual teams:

Again, you can see that no matter which approach we use, no matter which reasonable team we put the player on, we get very similar final estimates of individual runs created.

Some methods for estimating run contribution (most notably Dick Cramer’s Batter Win Average) have subtracted the player’s stats from those of the league and then found the difference. Cramer did not use an average team, but rather the composite league statistics for all X teams in the league. Here is what our differential figures for each player would look like using that approach:

I do not endorse this approach as a proper method to apply BsR to individuals (recognizing of course that the practical differences between this approach and the ones that I do endorse are minuscule). Runs are not created on a league level; they are created on a team level. If you want to take the player out of the context of a particular or theoretical team, and just get a “global” estimate of the player’s contributions, it is preferable IMO to apply the linear weight values. Pretending that runs are created on the league level and estimating the player’s contribution thusly is wrong in theory, and an inefficient use of time in practice.

So far I’ve shown you the final runs created estimate from each of these approaches. Now I will show the intrinsic weights that led to some of those estimates for Alex Rodriguez. Since many of the differential approaches produce very similar results, there is no need to clutter this up with the weights for each approach. The first column, “BsR”, shows the BsR intrinsic weights for his individual statistics. The second column, “LBsR”, is the linear weights for the 2007 AL as a whole. The third column, “LYanks”, is the linear weight values based on the 2007 Yankees as a whole. The fourth column, “TT Long”, are the intrinsic weights for ARod with the long-term TT formula; “TT 2007” are the intrinsic weights for ARod with the 2007 AL TT formula. The last column, titled “Big Diff”, is the difference between the maximum weight of the event and the minimum weight for the five approaches:

Here we see that while the final estimate stays within a two run range or so, the coefficients that get us there have a little more variation. As expected, the home run and the out are the most stable of the events. You can decide whether these differences are worth it to you to go through a theoretical team procedure, or whether you just want to stick with the linear weights. Personally, while I love the concept of a theoretical team have done as much work with it as anyone other than the aforementioned pioneers of the approach (at least as far as I can tell), I think that it is probably better to stick with the linear weights on a league level for most purposes. In stating that preference, I am not claiming that such an approach is “better” or any such thing. It is just my opinion that the extra effort put into the theoretical team calculation is not justified by the differences in the final estimates.

There is one issue hanging on the periphery of any theoretical team discussion that I would like to acknowledge, although I do not want to go into it here as it really is not so much about run estimation but about moving from run contribution to win contribution. That is the effect that a batter has on his team by creating additional opportunities for his teammates. Traditional runs created estimates, as well as the theoretical team variations presented here, do not account for this. It is pretty easy to tack what David Smyth called PAR (PA ratio) on to TT BsR. Whether you want to or not (and how the PAR approach compares to the old FanHome poster Sibelius’ R+/PA) depends on exactly what you are trying to measure. David Tate’s Marginal Lineup Value was the first method in this vein, and you could also adapt it to use BsR instead of RC.

That’s a topic for another day, but keep in mind that the TT BsR estimate as discussed here for any player measures his direct contribution only.